Nova Scotia

Contaminated compost not causing Yarmouth County water woes, report finds

Two reports say water problems experienced by some Yarmouth County residents weren't caused by contaminated compost or the activities of a former sawmill.

2 reports says elevated lead, other readings not due to compost or former sawmill

Contaminated compost spread over a field, which was once occupied by a sawmill, is not the source of water problems some residents in the Yarmouth area are experiencing. (CBC)

Reports about contaminated compost spread in Yarmouth County say neither the organics nor a former sawmill are the cause of water-related problems for area residents — but some people remain unconvinced.

The reports on water quality and an environmental investigation, prepared for the town by the EnGlobe Corp., were ordered after several hundred truckloads of Class B compost were spread on a field near Yarmouth's water supply in Lake George last fall in an effort to vegetate the field.

Class B compost was spread on a field near Yarmouth's water supply in Lake George last fall. (Google Earth)

It was quickly determined that the compost was full of foreign materials such as plastic and other garbage.

The field was once the location of a sawmill, and there were concerns that either the compost or the former mill were the cause of elevated levels of lead and other contaminants in some residents' water.

But the reports delivered last week suggest otherwise.

'No concern' with compost

"The results of the investigation revealed no concern with the environmental quality of the compost and its effect of the surrounding environment," reads the report.

While tests found elevated metals in surface water and groundwater near the site of the mill, including an old dip tank, nothing in the results was able to show the metals were getting into people's wells.

The reports call for more monitoring and testing "to assess other contributing sources to the elevated lead."

'My ponds behind my house are black'

Rob Gray, a local resident, remains unconvinced.

"My drinking water is the colour of a pond now, it never used to be," he said. "My ponds behind my house are black, they never used to be."

Two buckets of water from Rob Gray's property in Lake George, Yarmouth County. The water on the left is from his pond, the water on the right is from his well. (Rob Gray)

Gray said he has concerns about the quality of the testing and questions the findings, including the attribution of a water treatment process to his property that he says he doesn't have. He plans to contact a lawyer to determine his options.

"Everybody's pissed," he said. "I can't chase this the rest of my life."

Adam Russell, who discovered lead in his water when he had it tested last fall, said he wants to know more about the reports and is hoping to meet soon with the company to discuss their findings.

Adam Russell said he still has questions about the reports' findings and hopes to meet with the company that conducted the work. (CBC)

He's concerned about what he's read so far. He learned one of his wells isn't actually on his property, but on land owned by the town. That well has high levels of arsenic and elevated levels of lead.

The mill was still standing when he moved in 10 years ago, but Russell said he wasn't too worried about it at the time.

"Nobody actually knew that there was a contaminated pool of material," he said. "A sawmill, per se, there's nothing wrong with it."

Testing in the area included a drilling program last March.

More testing recommended

Possible sources for the lead in people's wells includes elevated levels in the water supplying them, leaching of plumbing and seasonal issues.

Evidence of whether findings of phenol, aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, vanadium and zinc concentrations in surface water were man-made is inconclusive from the testing, according to the report.

The report also recommends homeowners follow provincial recommendations for well testing.

No noticeable problems in the past

Russell said although he's always tested his well for E. coli and coliform, he'd never tested for metals before the issue with the compost.

"Basically, the water around here [had] been A-1," said Russell.

Gray, who has used bottled water since he started noticing changes with his supply last autumn, had never tested his well.

"You live out in the country, nobody around you is having any problems — why would you?"

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood says believes the reports into contaminated compost are solid. (CBC)

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood said she believes the reports should ease people's minds about any problems with the compost, other than the unsightly materials mixed in with the compost that shouldn't have been there.

While the tests show no direct connection between the former mill site and the lead, Mood said the town still wants to try to help.

"Let's just keep looking at it — not that we have to — but just in good faith, let's just keep testing," she said. The plan is to continue testing for about a year to help people understand what is and isn't happening, said Mood.

Trust in experts, says mayor

While she understands why the residents of the Lake George area may distrust the town, Mood believes the reports are solid.

"We are dealing with experts," she said.

"My sincere hope is that the public believes [and] understands that what these experts are saying is true."